President's Column - January 2018

Shalom. In contrast to the cold, snowy weather as I’m writing this in mid-December, I have experienced the warmth of several wonderful community events this month. Our TBT communal Chanukah dinner and service - attended by about 150 congregants, including many children - was a joy to behold, and our Mitzvah Day at religious school was equally uplifting. The collective spirit of our children at these events warmed up the coldest days.

An even bigger gathering was the Biennial conference for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), where I spent a few days in Boston in early December with over 5,000 fellow Reform Jews from across the United States and Canada (including seven of us from TBT!). If there was ever any question about the spirit and vibrancy of Reform Judaism, going to Biennial will dispel those doubts. (You will all have another chance two years from now in Chicago!) Among all the learning sessions, talks, services, and entertainment was an important sermon by URJ President Rick Jacobs discussing the growth of Reform Judaism in Israel and the determined fight to ensure its rightful place in Israeli society and law, along with useful perspectives on the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Closer to home, we will have an important opportunity to learn about our exciting synagogue building project, and its current status and options, at a congregational meeting scheduled for Sunday morning, March 11th. Please follow the progress of our project in the monthly update in Shofar newsletter and put the March 11th gathering on your calendars.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - January 2018

It is hard to believe that I am already in my 6th year at TBT. In anticipation of soon being in my 7th year, the Board of Directors and I have been in discussion about possible Sabbatical time. Given the very full schedule of events, it seemed best to break up any sabbatical time into smaller parts - hence, we have agreed upon a first step of one month of sabbatical time to be taken January 1-31, 2018.

My first priority is to assure coverage for the congregation during the time that I will be away. Cantor Margolius will be in charge of all clergy needs. Cantor Margolius has already demonstrated his strong skills and the congregation will be in very good hands. Leading our congregation is a team effort and so I also want to thank our Administrator, Kim Romine and Administrative Assistant, Bonnie Mahon for stepping up and making sure everything is seamless, as always.

The notion of a sabbatical comes directly from the Jewish value of ‘shavat vayinafash,’ to stop in order to replenish. I feel blessed to be the rabbi of TBT. It is a privilege to be present with so many times of great intimacy, joy and even sadness, in your lives. I love leading worship, teaching Torah, officiating at life cycle events, engaging with the greater Shoreline community, representing the Jewish community to interfaith endeavors, and providing pastoral care to our congregants. I take very seriously the import of my being available at times of need, not only on a full-time basis, but virtually on an all-the-time basis.

While I am energized by the demands of my work, I am also aware of the need to tend to my own professional and spiritual development. I realize that I am hungry for a period of time to replenish my spiritual reserves and better serve the congregation. The rabbis teach the concept: “livnot u’l’hi-banot,” that is, we can best help to build up others, when we build up ourselves.

What will I do? In some ways, my goal is to ‘do’ less and ‘be’ more. Nancy and I will be out-of-town, hoping to power off in order to recharge. I have a long list of reading material, which I am eager to shape into Adult Education courses upon my return.

I am very grateful to the Board of Directors for its support and blessing. I am grateful to you as well for your enthusiasm. The months go by quickly; I am sure that I will be back in what seems like a flash. At the same time, I hope something of this sabbatical will last forever.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column - December 2017

Shalom. We have all just celebrated Thanksgiving, a holiday that brings together people of all religions and communities in our country. It must be an especially sweet day for refugee families celebrating their first Thanksgiving, their first celebration of being a new American.

Coming together as a community and bridging our differences was in important theme of a Guilford event that I recently attended one Sunday afternoon in November. Entitled “Building a Community of Compassion,” a broad cross-section of Guilford residents (including clergy, activists, and concerned citizens) explored their own experiences and those of others regarding diversity (or lack thereof) in the area and incidents of bias or intolerance. There was much reflection and conversation, and many of us spending the afternoon at the Guilford Community Center learned a great deal by just sitting down and listening to the stories of others. We ended the day by each person committing to assist with an action plan. For me, I will attend a meeting on December 6th to explore forming a Guilford Human Rights Commission. Thanks to Rabbi Offner for being part of the steering committee organizing the event and inviting me to participate.

Changing the subject only slightly, there is a step we can all take to help TBT be a more welcoming, vibrant, and economically diverse place. This year’s Annual Fund campaign is underway, and my letter explaining how you can participate was mailed to all congregants and is linked in the weekly Shofar e-Blast. The Annual Fund brings in necessary funds for all aspects of TBT operations but is particularly critical in allowing us to welcome all Jewish shoreline families regardless of their economic circumstances. We are a stronger community for opening our doors to all area Jewish families, and we hope to have at least 50% of TBT members make a donation to the Annual Fund in an amount that is comfortable for them. Thank you.

Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - December 2017

I love Chanukah. I can’t wait for the holiday to begin. Why do I love it so much? Funny, but it’s for reasons you might not expect. First, I love Chanukah because it is such an easy holiday. In contrast to Rosh Hashanah or Pesach, there is very little planning that needs to go into Chanukah. What a gift. Just take out the menorah, light the candles,’s Chanukah.

I also love Chanukah because of the requirement that the candles are not to be ‘used,’ but ‘enjoyed.’ What it means in practical terms is that for the 7 or 8 minutes it takes for the candles to burn down, we are required to STOP, to just sit and enjoy, to reflect in the reflection, and glow in the glow of the beautiful candles.

In some ways I wish it could happen every day of the year, but what makes Chanukah special is that 8 nights in a row the family gathers together and visits - no TV, no homework, no dinner. Just family, candles, and time. It’s not even a long time. But a ten-minute evening ritual can be a wonderful moment in time.

Oh, you say, but I forgot to mention the presents! Yes, let’s talk about presents for a moment. I am certainly not against presents. How wonderful that we take time to think of others and offer and receive gifts from them. But eight nights is a lot of nights. How might we approach this gift-giving holiday without being overwhelmed by consumerism? A couple of ideas. One, we might put a $5 limit on all gifts. That forces everyone to be clever in their approach to thinking about gifts. Or, how about a $1 limit on the first night, $2 on the second night, up to $8 on the eighth night?

Another possibility: different kinds of gifts for each of the nights. One night can be a gift you buy, one night can be a gift you write, one night can be a gift you bake, and so on. Need more ideas? How about a gift-of-self night (non-money items such as cleaning a room, or a no-fighting-with-siblings night); a tzedakah night (everyone finds some clothes or toys and wraps them as a gift to a social service agency), a book or poem night where everyone reads a favorite passage, or a gift-you-make night.

Here’s an idea for the third night: give yourself the gift of an adult Chanukah and come to the Latkes & Vodkas celebration sponsored by Federation at the Guilford Yacht Club.

And the fourth night gift: bring the whole family to our Chanukah Dinner, Latkes & Menorah-lighting here at the synagogue.

Chanukah is fun but its message is more important than ever. It is a message of spreading light in a time of darkness, celebrating religious freedom rather than religious coercion, and living with hope rather than fear.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column - November 2017

Shalom. The contemplation and exhilaration of the High Holidays are now behind us. They were polished off by wonderful and lively Sukkot and Simchat Torah celebrations with perhaps 100 congregants at each service, many of them children from our Religious School. What now? Nothing until Chanukah? Actually TBT does not shut down after the High Holidays and has a full slate of services and activities ahead of us this fall.

In addition to weekly Shabbat services and Torah study, Jewish Mindfulness & Meditation will have another Saturday morning session November 4, and the TBT Book Club continues to meet on the third Thursday of every month (see the Shofar for details). Lessons in Hebrew reading start on November 12, as a prelude to next January’s Torah Chanting class. And the can’t-miss event of the Fall is this year’s Scholar-in-Residence weekend: TBT will be blessed when Rabbi Deborah Zecher brings her love of Broadway and Bible to TBT. At the Friday, November 17 service, Rabbi Zecher will present a “Sermon in a Song.” Then on Saturday, November 18, from 6:00-9:30pm, join your fellow congregants for dinner, Havdalah, and Rabbi Zelcher’s presentation on “Broadway Bible,” combining rabbinic insights with her knowledge and performance of Broadway show tunes. Forget an expensive trip to New York and come to Broadway in Madison instead. Free to congregants (and non-members can come with a contribution). Just let the office know you’re coming.

There will also be multiple opportunities this Fall to learn and socialize with members of other synagogues. The URJ’s Biennial Convention is in Boston December 6-10, and already seven TBT members (perhaps a record!) will be going to join with thousands of other Reform synagogue members nationally. Registration is still open. Several of our teen members of the SALTY Youth Group will be attending the regional BBYO Convention in Danbury on November 10-12. All in all, a busy and fulfilling Autumn at TBT.

- Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - November 2017

The month of November has only one Jewish holiday in it: Thanksgiving. “Wait,” you say, “Thanksgiving? That’s not a Jewish holiday!” True, it is not technically a part of the Jewish calendar, but it is, though secular, one of the most Jewish of holidays. It is Jewish because it is based upon two of the most Jewish of values: THANKS and GIVING.

Judaism teaches that we are to give thanks every day. There is so much to give thanks for, even in times of trouble. Judaism also teaches that the act of giving - of ourselves, of our good fortune, of your monetary resources - is a spiritual discipline.

This particular Autumn has been about as gorgeous as Autumn gets here in New England. While we have been enjoying beautiful weather, we are keenly aware of other places and other people who have not been as fortunate as we have been.

At this season on Thanksgiving, I want to give you the opportunity to express thanks for our good fortune by giving to others who are in need. There is a long list. We continue to focus our concern upon those affected by hurricanes in Florida, Texas, and the Carribean, and those affected by the dreadful wildfires in California. Those disasters hit close to home when we learn of people we know or communities we connect with that are suffering.

Our Jewish community suffered a dreadful loss as the Reform Movement’s Camp Newman burned to the ground in Santa Rosa, California. I spent many years in leadership at URJ Camp Swig, which was the precursor to Camp Newman. Fortunately, no lives were lost at Camp Newman, but when I think of the summer spirit and all those facilities teeming with the joys of Jewish children, I shudder for their breathtaking loss. We can help rebuild our Reform Jewish Camp Newman by going to to lend our support.

We are also well connected to the synagogue in St. Thomas where my colleague, Michael Feshbach, serves as Rabbi. He writes:
“I am grateful that the damage to the synagogue itself was limited, although it was significant. We lost all our machzors, most of our haggadot, some our our siddurum, cabinets and other furniture in the museum, extensive damage in both of our historic cemeteries. We may have lost our keyboard and we have water pumps and perhaps a generator switch which needs to be replaced. We double-wrapped the scrolls during both storms (some of which were saved from the fire in our building in 1831!) but were taken by surprise by the Kol Nidrei night deluge. We found a damp ark and ruined white materials the morning of Yom Kippur. One scroll was slightly wet; we believe it is not permanently damaged. We have real damage and need support, but we know things could have been much worse. We must take care not to let there be too long-lasting damage to the spirit of the place. And we know we can come back better than we were.”

Those interested in helping can go to the Facebook page “The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas” or to their webpage at

We are a small but mighty people. “Kol Yisrael Eruvin zeh b’zeh,” we are all connected to one another. At this season of Thanksgiving, we show our thanks by giving to those in need.

Rabbi Offner

President's Column - October 2017

Shalom. We have reached another new year on the Jewish calendar - a time of renewal, a
time for reflection. Many of us in Connecticut are fortunate to be able to celebrate this time of year in our homes and in our synagogues. But we cannot ignore the news coming from other parts of our continent, where homes and synagogues are damaged and people are taking shelter in unfamiliar places. Thankfully, the Jewish community is united in times like this, with synagogues in neighboring but safe states helping to find shelter for those who fled their homes and Jewish organizations assisting with relief efforts.

The focus on the news media is on damage to buildings. What is important about a building? Isn’t a building just a structure, with roof, floor, and walls? Can’t it just be rebuilt after a natural
disaster? But, of course, a building is much more than that. We are often attached to our homes for reasons that go beyond architecture or the materials used in its construction. Our homes are where we connect with family and friends - creating a small community within the larger one; it is where we return for rest after a weary day of work or school; it is where we dream for the future and make plans.

In Madison, we all have another house - a house of hope (Beth Tikvah). TBT also provides a community within a larger one, and where many of us go for reflection, spiritual nourishment,
and companionship. But we as a synagogue are not turned only inward, as we also examine our relationship to the outside world and strive to improve that world for Jews and non-Jews
alike. Like all households, we have rules (although these go back thousands of years), which provide a helpful structure for living a good and meaningful life. It is my hope that we all work together in the year ahead to make a difference, whether it’s in one person’s life or the world at large. If we do that, then we have taken what is made of wood and other common materials and truly made it a synagogue.

Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - October 2017

What in the world could the Holy One have been thinking to pack FOUR major holidays into one month! Nevertheless, we Jews have been indefatigable in celebrating just those holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. As I write these words, we are still in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah. But by the time you read them, Yom Kippur will be over. The Book of Life will have been opened, our own lives reviewed, and the new chapters are just beginning.

That is where Sukkot and Simchat Torah come in. How wonderful to celebrate Sukkot, out on the TBT deck, in our wondrous Sukkah, set up by the Men’s Club and decorated by our Nursery
School & Religious School children. Sukkot reminds us of the beauty of nature and of its fragility. We are still post-hurricanes and continue to be awed if not overwhelmed by the ferocious power of wind and rain. (And no, it’s not too late to donate to the cause - my favorite one being NECHAMA, A Jewish Response to Disaster. You can give at

Every year at Simchat Torah, the unfurling of the Torah scroll throughout the congregation is an awe-inspiring wonder to behold. We end the Torah and we begin again. Simchat Torah
marks the conclusion to our season of new beginnings. We celebrate a new year at Rosh Hashanah, a new opportunity at Yom Kippur, a new harvest at Sukkot, and a new cycle of Torah at Simchat Torah.

Endings and beginnings. The order of these words is significant because it is indeed a cycle that we are celebrating.

Moadim L’Simcha - May the holidays still ahead of us be filled
with joy.
Rabbi Offner

President's Column - September 2017

Shalom. I am writing this column on a beautiful August summer afternoon. Summer.
Every year we look forward to it. End of school. Vacations. Beaches. Family time.
Time to read and reflect. Time to get long stalled projects done. Time to think about
the year ahead, to plan before the hectic schedule returns in September and summer
fades into memory.

Temple Beth Tikvah is no different. Its rhythms change in the summer. Our shift to 6:00pm Shabbat services on all summer Fridays has been well received, and we are making good use of the outdoors. Two beach Shabbats and a Shabbat “under the stars” on our patio have made use of the natural beauty that surrounds us and has brought our community together in new

It is also time, believe it or not, to prepare for the High Holidays that renew our spirits each year. The clergy are hard at work preparing meaningful services, volunteers are organizing children’s services, and the High Holiday choir is rehearsing. Our Religious Activities Committee, chaired by Heide Mueller-Hatton, is working closely with our clergy to bring it all together, and all congregants are welcome to participate in the work of that committee
and add their voices and ideas.

The Social Justice Committee, co-chaired by Sarah Mervine and Tina Silidker, have begun organizing a full slate of activities for the fall to help improve the world, as TBT’s mission statement dictates. At a time when our nation is experiencing hateful violence and we are bombarded with caustic rhetoric in the daily news, TBT does its part to celebrate humanity and assist all who are in need, whether it’s providing food to families, building homes, or collecting supplies for school children. Come to that committee’s next meeting on September 12th to help shape its agenda and contribute to its mission.

Our Programming Committee, chaired by Gary Damiano, is already working to design exciting programs for us this fall (stay tuned!), and Gary would welcome your assistance. And then
there’s our Education Committee, co-chaired by Peter Chorney and Deb Coe, coordinating closely with the Cantor to give us a school and curriculum designed to educate and enlighten our Jewish youth. The start of school is around the corner, and we have a full slate of teachers ready to inspire our children. Come add your input to this important endeavor. Several more
commitees are doing important work, to be discussed in future columns.

May the remainder of your summer be meaningful (and fun!).
Jeff Babbin

Rabbi's Column - September 2017

I am in my seat at the Metropolitan Opera House. The majestic crystal chandeliers start their rise into the sky. The spotlight reveals an elegantly attired conductor. The house falls silent, he lifts his baton, the orchestra begins. The music goes straight to my heart; I am enraptured by my favorite moment, the overture.

Selichot is the overture for our High Holidays. You don’t want to miss it. It is a truly breathtaking service. This year, with Mishkan HaLev, the new prayer book for Elul and Selichot, we can soar in spirit and reflection, in ways that are contemporary and traditionial.
The High Holiday season is somber and the work we do is heavy. How refreshing then to begin our overture with Mishkan HaLev, which works because it is rooted in joy and celebrates the opportunities the season offers us to change our lives. The name of the book itself - Mishkan HaLev - not only promises a connection to the other Mishkan prayers books in our lives, but also a focus on the heart - a joyful heart.

Yehuda Amichai’s beautiful poetry appears throughout the book, tying together both the ancient and the modern with timely, meaningful messages that are neither moralistic nor pedantic. One poem, “The Place Where We Are Right,” demonstrates this theme:

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Mishkan HaLev helps open our hearts to the tasks at hand. I look forward to seeing you at Selichot Services on Saturday, September 16th at 7pm, when the new book will be in our hands as we open the gates of 5778.
L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu,
Rabbi Stacy K. Offner